On Christmas Eve 1914, in the midst of a miserable war being waged in the trenches across Europe, a group of German soldiers in Belgium celebrated the holiday. They lit candles, decorated trees and sang carols. Across the battlefield, British soldiers responded to this by singing Christmas carols of their own, and soon soldiers from both sides met in the middle – in “No Man’s Land” – to exchange warm greetings, small gifts and together sing “O Holy Night.” After months of bloody fighting between the two sides in brutal and filthy conditions, the Christmas spirit prevailed and for a few fleeting moments, the sides were united by their common and sacred traditions. ”The Christmas Truce” was a remarkable moment of peace and humanity, and it’s one of my favorite Christmas stories.
Thankfully, most of us will never know the extreme misery those soldiers suffered through in the trenches of World War I, but it’s not to say we don’t have our daily challenges and our own sufferings here at home. Many thousands of our own troops are stationed all around the world and will be greatly missed by those they love. Many millions more continue to struggle in this tough economy to find work and make ends meet. National debates about issues rage on and often deeply divide us. But the story of those soldiers and what they overcame to come together in peace to celebrate shows us the power of the Christmas spirit. And the traditions celebrated this time of year by all faiths still have the power to bring us together – together as families and neighbors and Americans.
Christmas is a special time at the Santorum house. And to celebrate, we do many of the same things you probably do: Decorate the tree, bake cookies, build gingerbread houses, go to midnight Mass and wake up way too early to open Santa’s presents. Our family loves Christmas television and movie specials, too: ”The Bells of St. Mary’s,” “White Christmas,” “Home Alone,” “The Santa Clause” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” are some of our favorites. One of the continuing miracles of the season is that the popular culture around Christmas goes a little retro, making the world a little less hostile for those of us raising children. We may argue on fiscal policy, for example, but we all agree that we and our children should aspire to be more like George Bailey and less like Mr. Potter.
The classic images of Christmas have united us for generations: the freshly cut tree on top of the family wagon, greeting cards pouring through the mail slot, carolers singing door to door and Grandma’s plate of Christmas cookies. These images speak to us and speak to the good and the charity within us. That good and charity is the Christmas spirit within us. It’s important we protect this spirit and cherish our traditions. America is sorely in need of being reminded of what brings us together and how each of us, like George Bailey, can play a critical role in making America a better place.
Despite all of these enduring images and feelings that have brought us together, Christmas has been, throughout history, at risk of losing its true meaning. And that meaning is the true story of Christmas. For hundreds and hundreds of years it is has been told –.the story of a man named Joseph and a woman named Mary and a baby named Jesus. The shepherds came to see him. Wise men brought him presents. And hark the herald angels sang glory to the newborn King. Christ is born in Bethlehem.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were so afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.”
So even if it is for a short respite, let’s soak in the positive Christmas culture and contemplate anew what this season is all about. Merry Christmas.